Covid-19 video chat guide: making the most of it

What you'll get from this guide

8 tips to improve your video chatting experiences

And we'll compare the most common video calling apps

8 free games and ideas for your next video call

Board games, card games, virtual dinner parties, and more

01   Choose a spot

02   Consider external equipment

03   Show up early

04   Test audio and video

05   Shut down unused applications

06   Don't _____ before a video call

07   Games and ideas to make it fun

08   Video chat apps compared

Connecting virtually is no longer something some do on occasion, but something many do regularly.  Many people are left without the support they need to participate in this increasingly necessary, virtual way of connecting.  And even if you're already feel proficient connecting with friends and family on-screen, a few simple tweaks can undoubtedly transform your experience.

FaceTime, Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and Skype all accomplish the same thing, yet they do so in slightly different ways and with some not-so-subtle differences in features.  And often times the HIPAA compliant platforms that physicians are required to use pose their own unique challenges with their own user interface.

If you follow the best practices in this guide, not only will your live video experiences go more smoothly, but you'll also have a more productive, enjoyable interaction.

01   Choose a spot

 

This doesn't have to be the only place you meet virtually, but it should be a dedicated place.  This will allow you to:

Choose good

lighting

Lighting should make you the object of focus, not your camera.  A warm desktop lamp off to the side is usually sufficient.  Be careful with bright overhead lights as they cast shadows on your face and will do nothing but shine light upon your lack of sleep.

Lamp

02   Consider external equipment

There's no need for most people to build a home studio with a green screen and studio lights, but once you try an external USB webcam or microphone you'll never go back to what your device provides by itself.  There's no learning curve—just plug them in and they're ready to go.

  • External webcam.  Unlike most things in technology, laptop webcams have become worse over the years, not better.  There's simply not enough space left to squeeze in good sensors and lenses.  Most phones are thicker than the average laptop lid, and any $35 external camera will blow both out of the water.

  • External microphone.  Space is also something that can't be easily substituted for when designing audio.  Here are controlled audio samples between one mainstream USB microphone, and some devices that claim to have good quality audio through tiny, pinhole microphones:

Blue Snowball - $50

iPhone 11 Pro - $1,100

Macbook Pro - $1,800

Apple Airpods - $160

03   Show up early

It can be stressful when tech doesn't work, especially when you need it most.  Give yourself a few extra minutes to get setup, even if you think it will be easy.

 

It's true that some video chat applications allow you to join directly from your web browser without creating an account, but not all of them.  In some cases you will need to install software or create an account. 

 

So especially if you're using an application for the first time, don't be fashionably late—show up early.

04   Test your audio and video

All mainstream video calling applications provide a tool to test your audio and video before you start the meeting.  They're all pretty straightforward, and these tests will catch many common issues:

  • Wrong input/output.  If your device has more than one known mic or speaker, it may not know which one it's supposed to use. 

  • Audio/video permissions.  Sometimes your system's security settings will prevent an application from accessing your device's microphone or camera. 

  • Audio muted.  Some applications or hosts mute you by default when you join a meeting, and it's easy to miss.

05   Shut down unused applications

Do you computer a solid and close down unused applications and tabs.  Video calling can be quite taxing on your CPU and memory, and you'll want enough resources available to not just do the job, but to do it well.  If you've ever experienced stuttering or crashing, unused applications could be to blame.

06   Don't restart your system before a video call

Restarting flushes your memory, purges temporary files, and can fix an impressive number of issues.  But 5-minutes before an interview is not the time to get surprised with an hour long update.

PC.png

07   Games and ideas to make it fun

 

Many games you used to play together can be played on screen with little to no modifications.  Being separated doesn't mean we still can't get together virtually for dinner, to celebrate birthdays, or just to have fun.

Create your own themed game or use My Free Bingo Cards as a virtual caller.  Everyone can have a link to their own bingo card.

Bingo

Yahtzee

One person shares their screen to roll dice with this virtual roller, and then someone needs to print a scoresheet.

Pictionary

Use this random word generator and this countdown timer, and grab ya' some sharpies and paper, and play without the board.

Chess

Look, in the old days, they played this through the mail.  So you can certainly do it over video chat with this free game.

It's as easy as using this random word generator along with this countdown timer, and you can have fun all night long.

Charades

Poker

Plenty of people already play card games online.  Do the same thing, but just turn on video chat through your favorite app.

Dinner

Create a theme and have everyone cook or order food, and sit down on video chat at the same time.  It's better than a phone call.

Book Club

Gather 'round, open a bottle of wine, and discuss a book until your heart is full.  ReadyGroupGuides can help with discussion guides.

08   Video chat apps compared

Facetime, Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Google Meet, Skype.  We get it.  It's getting a little out of hand, but don't fret—we'll help you pick one.

FaceTime

Best for

Impromptu calls with individuals or small groups where everyone uses Apple.

Pros

Supports up to 32 people, comes preinstalled on Apple devices, and is very simple and easy to use.  An incoming video call rings in the same way that your used to seeing phone calls come through.  Doesn't get much more simple than that.

Cons

You have to have Apple, and most of the world runs Android and Windows.

To get setup to video chat your friends or family,

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